AAG Welcomes Spring 2023 Interns

Two new interns have joined the AAG staff this semester! The AAG would like to welcome Iman and Allison to the organization.

Photo of Iman SmithIman Smith is a junior at the University of Maryland, pursuing a B.S. in Geographical Sciences and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Her areas of interest include agricultural monitoring and crop management, and global food security. In her spare time, Iman likes to travel, crochet, make pottery, and she also hosts a college radio show.

Photo of Allison RiveraAllison Rivera is a senior at the University of Connecticut pursuing a B.S. in Geoscience and a minor in Geography. She is mostly interested in geomorphology and physical geography and is currently completing a senior thesis on such topics. After graduation, Allison hopes to attend graduate school and pursue further research in the field of geomorphology. In her spare time, she enjoys watching cartoons, going for walks, and reading.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship at the AAG, the AAG seeks interns on a year-round basis for the spring, summer, and fall semesters.

Learn more about becoming an AAG intern

Gerry A. Hale

Gerry Hale, a long-time, much-loved professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, died on October 14, 2022.

Born in 1933 in Los Angeles, Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) was raised in the neighboring city of Glendale. He attended UCLA as both an undergraduate and graduate student. In the early 1960s, while conducting fieldwork in Sudan, Gerry served as the Head Geography Master at Unity High School for Girls in Khartoum and as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Khartoum. Before and after his time in Sudan, he also taught at the University of Southern California. In 1966, working under the direction of Dr. Joseph Spencer, he completed his Ph.D. dissertation on agricultural terracing in Sudan’s Darfur region. Soon thereafter, he joined the UCLA Department of Geography as a tenure-track faculty member.

A political and cultural geographer, Gerry’s teaching and research focused on technology, nationalism, the state, cultural hegemony, capitalism, anti-colonialism and empire, and Marxist geography. His regional specializations were in North Africa, the Middle East, and California.

Photo of Sondra and Gerry Hale in their house in Hai el-Matar, Khartoum, Sudan, 1961.Photographer: unknown.
Sondra and Gerry Hale in their house in Hai el-Matar, Khartoum, Sudan, 1961. Photographer: unknown.

A combination of factors—ranging from witnessing pervasive racial injustice in Glendale and exposure to the early years of postcolonial life in Lebanon (where he studied as a M.A. student) and in Africa, to the horrors of the U.S. war in Vietnam—radicalized Gerry. By the late 1960s, he saw himself as Marxist—politically as well as intellectually.

Consistent with his politics—a combination of democratic socialism, feminism, and anti-racism—Gerry was involved in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography from its initial days. As the journal’s structure became more formalized, he served on the editorial board from 1978 to 1985.

Gerry’s politics also underlay his intense dedication to students. He was the advisor to approximately a dozen Ph.D. students who went on to academic careers, and to scores of Master’s students—in Geography as well as in the African Studies M.A. Program, for which he served as director for some years, and in the Center for Near Eastern Studies. He was also the Department of Geography’s undergraduate and graduate advisor during the 1990s. In these roles Gerry was known to be a strong supporter of women faculty and students.

Because of his politics, life at UCLA in Gerry’s earlier years as a faculty member were often difficult given the strongly conservative ethos that permeated the institution. Changing times and, more importantly, Gerry’s generous spirit, ethical character, collegiality, and dedication as a teacher of undergraduate and graduates alike eventually won over most, if not all, of his detractors. By the time of his retirement circa 1997, Gerry was a highly valued and universally appreciated citizen of the Department and the University as a whole; he was a member of some of the most prestigious bodies on campus, such as the Committee on Privilege and Tenure.

A strong sense of justice motivated much of what Gerry Hale did as a geographer. Many of those who were fortunate enough to take an undergraduate course with him, for example, learned about what happened to the predominately working class and Mexican-descended community of Chavez Ravine. Beginning in 1951, the City of Los Angeles used eminent domain to expel the area’s residents and raze their homes—in the name of public housing which never arrived. Instead, years later, the city sold the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers to build a baseball stadium.

As one former student, now a historian, recalled in relation to Gerry’s telling of the story, “When I was growing up in Echo Park (a Los Angeles neighborhood), I didn’t know this history. I don’t think most people know it today. I learned it once I got to UCLA, in a geography class with Gerry Hale. He was not even a Chicano, but a white man who engaged in a one-man boycott of Dodger Stadium, having made a personal commitment to never go to ballgames because of what had happened on the land on which Dodger Stadium sits.”

Gerry Hale is survived by his longtime partner, Sondra Hale, professor emeritus of Anthropology and Gender Studies at UCLA, and their daughters, Alexa and Adrienne, as well as by countless others whose lives he touched.

Provided by Garth Myers (Trinity College) and Joseph Nevins (Vassar College).



Laurence Allan James

Laurence Allan James passed from this world in the loving arms of his sister and niece on the night of December 3, 2022.

Allan (AKA, A.J.) was born in Hollywood, California, on March 18, 1949, into a family of many geologists. His family moved to Sacramento in northern California in 1956. He was active in Little League baseball and later attended Mira Loma High School, where he was on the Honor Roll, elected Senior Class President, played basketball and ran on the cross-country track team. He also began to write songs and play guitar with his friends. The garage band at 4425 Glen Oak Court was infamous.

Photo of a young Laurence Allan James, Mira Loma High School yearbook, 1967

After high school, he interrupted his studies at University of California, Berkeley a number of times to pursue his singer-songwriter aspirations. Allan helped run a café on Bleeker Street in New York City and busked in Europe. He hitchhiked across the United States to greet his newborn niece.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1978 and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he pursued two Masters of Science degrees, in Water Resources Management and in Geography, with Jim Knox as his advisor. His Ph.D., also from the University of Wisconsin, was held jointly in Geography and Geology, with James C. Knox and David M. Mickelson as his dissertation advisors. While in Madison, he researched several family pioneers, including a Civil War hero who has a statue there.

Allan taught at the University of Wisconsin and in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to the University of South Carolina in 1988, where he was a professor in the Geography Department for three decades. He also served as Director of the BioGeomorphology Laboratory and Senior Associate in the Environment and Sustainability Program.

His teaching and research primarily focused on fluvial geomorphology with emphases on river sedimentation, floodplain and channel morphogenesis following human activities, interactions between alluvium and flooding, and the use of spatial analysis in geomorphology. Specific themes included investigations of hydraulic mining sediment in California, historical erosion by rills and gullies and floodplain sedimentation in the U.S. southeastern Piedmont, concepts of legacy (anthropogenic) sediment, Quaternary glaciations of the northwestern Sierra Nevada in California, geomorphometry and geomorphic change detection.

He was a member of national and international societies encompassing the field of geomorphology, including the Geological Society of America (GSA) and the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and received a number of Distinguished Career awards. The Southeastern Division and Water Resources Specialty Group of AAG honored him with Distinguished Career awards in 2018. The Geomorphology Specialty Group (GSG) of the AAG presented him with the Grove Karl Gilbert Award for Excellence in Research in 2015 and the Melvin G. Marcus Distinguished Career Award in 2023. (He was notified of the latter award by his friends prior to his death.)

Allan was predeceased by his parents, Laurence B. and Elizabeth M. James, and his brother Benjamin. He is survived by his sister Catherine (JJ) DeMauro, his brother Stephen, his niece Stacey Swatek Huie and her spouse Jeremy, their daughters Madeleine and Miriya, his ex-wife Myrna N. Skoda James, her sons Joseph Skoda, Jr. and Jesse Skoda, granddaughters Chloe and Kylie, and his beloved companion Dr. Marcia Ehinger.

According to his wishes, he will be cremated and interred in his parents’ plot at East Lawn Cemetery on Greenback Lane in Sacramento, California. Celebration of life events are planned at his sister’s home and at the AAG annual meeting in 2023.

Written by Dr. Marcia Ehinger


Frederick John Simoons

Frederick John Simoons, Jr., a renowned cultural geographer, the latest-surviving of Carl Ortwin Sauer’s Ph.D. graduates, and an emeritus professor of Geography at the University of California, Davis, died on June 30, 2022, four months short of his one-hundredth birthday. He seems to have outlived most of his one-time graduate students.


Background and Education

Born on Nov. 2, 1922 in Philadelphia of World War I immigrant parents (Dutch and Flemish Belgian), Fred was raised in poverty in a single-parent home in a dangerous neighborhood of Newark, NJ. According to his one-time PhD student Daniel Wynne Gade (1936–2015; 1987b: 135), Fred’s parents’ European background and the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity contributed to the maturing child’s sense of culture in the anthropological sense.

Following stateside Army service during and just after World War II, he completed his AB in Sociology at Rutgers University but was impressed by courses taught there by the geographers Andrew Hill Clark (1911–1975) and William LeRoy Thomas, Jr. (1920–2002); accordingly, he declared a special interest in Geography. Simoons graduated in 1949, earning Highest Honors, and was named to The Phi Beta Kappa Society (Gade 1987b: 135).

He opted to take graduate work in Geography at the Berkeley-influenced University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, he met and married the librarianship student Elizabeth “Liz” Stadler (1925–2009), in April 1949. Still, sociology continued to appeal, and, supported by the GI Bill, Fred transferred to Harvard University’s Social Relations program—which included sociology, cultural anthropology, and psychology. There, impressed by a geography course taught by Derwent S. Whittlesey (1890–1956), Fred was stimulated to return to that field.

Obtaining a teaching assistantship at U.C. Berkeley, he removed to the famous Geography Department there, completing a 1952 master’s thesis under young James J. Parsons (1915–1997), “The Settlement of the Clear Lake Upland of California.” During his subsequent Ph.D. studies, he worked under the iconic pioneering cultural geographer Carl Ortwin Sauer (1889–1975), who had been fundamentally influenced by the writings of Romanticist German geographers, historians, and ethnologists and by his campus’s Germanic-American Franz Boas-trained anthropological colleagues Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876–1960) and Robert Harry Lowie (1883–1957; Williams, Lowenthal, and Denevan 2014). Fred absorbed Sauer’s Germanic historicist approach as well as the Old Man’s empiricism, very demanding work ethic, and surpassingly high academic standards.


With Ford Foundation support, in 1953 Liz and Fred traveled to remote and risky northwestern Ethiopia to accomplish fieldwork for his dissertation, “The Peoples and Economy of Begemder and Semyen, Ethiopia” (1956), which emphasized horticulture. In 1960, the University of Wisconsin Press published the adaptation, Northwest Ethiopia: Peoples and Economy (reprinted by Greenwood Press in 1983).

Fred was fascinated by bovines and their religious roles. Office of Naval Research- and Guggenheim Foundation-fostered sabbatical fieldwork in southern Asia led to Fred and Liz’s learning of the mithan, a little-known bovine kept and used ritually by tribal peoples in India’s Assam hills. Subsequent library study resulted in UWP’s A Ceremonial Ox of India (Simoons with Simoons 1968).

Following their Abyssinian stint, for five months Fred and Liz had traveled widely across Subsaharan Africa. One result was that beyond domesticates and traditional farming, Fred had taken up an interest in food habits. His pioneering work on animal-food avoidances resulted in 1961 in the classic Eat Not This Flesh (Wisconsin; reprinted in 1981 by Greenwood). Thirty-three years later, in 1994, Wisconsin issued a revised and augmented edition. Numerous reviews and translations of Eat Not appeared.

Echoing the nineteenth-century German historian Eduard Hahn (1856–1928), Simoons stressed ritual and other non-economical motives for domestication and animal-keeping, contrary to the economic-adaptationist ideas of the cultural-ecological materialist anthropologist Marvin Harris and many others of the day (Simoons 1979).

Cattle, dairying, and milk are major themes in the Simoons oeuvre. At the end of the 1960s, Fred took note of the fact that adult lactose (milk-sugar) intolerance—the usual and genetically controlled human condition—did not pertain among select human groups, notably those having had a long history of dairying. Fred investigated further and, with three publications (Simoons 1969, 1970a, 1970b), first forwarded what came to be called the “geographic” or “culture-historical” hypothesis of the co-emergence of dairying and adult lactase-persistence, which affords the ability comfortably to digest lactose (milk sugar) past puberty (the chronologically lock-step nature of this has recently been questioned: Evershed et al. 2022). A flock of related studies followed, and Fred’s fame grew, including in medicine and in nutrition, and he collaborated with researchers in those fields. His final publication was on this topic (Simoons 2001). Simoons’s contributions in this area led to an above-step promotion and appointment as the UCD Academic Senate’s Faculty Research Lecturer for 1981, a top campus honor. In 1987, Fred’s old Wisconsin student Dan Gade edited a Simoons-Festschrift issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography (Gade 1987), including a bibliography (Simoons 1987)

Other food-habit and related topics also captured Fred’s attention over ensuing decades. Although knowing no Chinese, following extensive research, including field investigation with Liz, Fred produced Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry (Simoons 1991; translated into Chinese in 2003). In 1998, Wisconsin published his Plants of Life, Plants of Death, which dealt with plants culturally associated with ritual purity, fertility, prosperity and life, as opposed to those associated with ritual impurity, illness, ill fate, and death.

University Employment

Fred first taught as an instructor at The Ohio State University, staying but a year (1956–1957). The following nine years were passed at the Sauerian-flavored University of Wisconsin Department of Geography at Madison, which years saw rapid advancement to full-professorship, until the Louisiana State University Department of Geography and Anthropology recruited him (and Jonathan Sauer) in 1966; but, as in the case of OSU, he (like Sauer) left LSU after one academic year. There followed two academic years (1967–1969) in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Geography. Finally, in 1968 Simoons moved on to UC Davis’s Department of Geography, where he spent the remainder of his distinguished career, mentoring many graduate students, serving an effective term as departmental chair, and—after two decades of UCD employment, retiring in 1989. He and Elizabeth—1981 retiree as Branch Manager and Assistant County Librarian in the Yolo County Public Library system—moved to Olympia and then on to Spokane, WA. Fred continued to publish through 2001. Following Liz’s death in 2009, he established a domestic partnership with former Geography graduate student Helen Issel (1926–2021) and resided outside of Sonoma, CA. They both died at the Sonoma Retirement Home, he from complications following a stroke.

References Cited

Evershed, Richard P., et al.  2022.  Dairying, Diseases and the Evolution of Lactase Persistence in Europe.  Nature: International Journal of Science 608(7922): 336–45.

Gade, Daniel W.  1987.  Commentary: Frederick J. Simoons, Cultural Geographer.  Journal of Cultural Geography 7(2): 135–41.

Simoons, Frederick J.  1952.  “The Settlement of the Clear Lake Upland of California.”  Unpublished master’s thesis in Geography, University of California, Berkeley.

––––––1956.  “The Peoples and Economy of Begemder and Semyen, Ethiopia.”  Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Geography, University of California, Berkeley.

––––––1960.  Northwest Ethiopia: Peoples and Economy.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press

––––––, with Elizabeth S. Simoons.  1968.  A Ceremonial Ox of India: The Mithan in Nature, Culture, and History, with Notes on the Domestication of Common Cattle.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press.  

––––––1961.  Eat Not This Flesh: Food Avoidances in the Old World.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press; expanded 2nd ed. 1994.

––––––1969.  Primary Adult Lactose Intolerance and the Milking Habit: A Problem in Biological and Cultural Interrelations.  I. Review of the Medical Research.  The American Journal of Digestive Diseases 14(12): 819–36.

––––––1970a.  The Traditional Limits of Milking and Milk Use in Southern Asia.  Anthropos 65(3/4): 547–93.

––––––1970b.  Primary Adult Lactose Intolerance and the Milking Habit: A Problem in Biologic and Cultural Interrelationships.  II. A Culture Historical Hypothesis.  The American Journal of Digestive Diseases 15(8): 695–715.

______1979.  Questions in the Sacred-Cow Controversy.  Current Anthropology 20(3): 467–76. Williams, Michael, with David Lowenthal and William M. Denevan.  2014.  To Pass on a Good Earth: The Life and Work of Carl O Sauer.  Charlottesville:  University of Virginia Press.

––––––1987.  Research Publications,” Journal of Cultural Geography 7(2): 143–7.

––––––1991.  Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry.  Boca Raton, FL:  CRC Press.

––––––1998.  Plants of Life, Plants of Death.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press.

––––––2001.  Persistence of Lactase Activity among Northern Europeans: A Weighing of Evidence in the Calcium Absorption Hypothesis.  Ecology of Food and Nutrition 40(5): 397–469.

By Stephen C. Jett, University of California, Davis, scjett@hotmail.com


Geography and Geographers in a Changing World

Photo of wind turbines on a farm by Karsten Wurth for Unsplash
Credit: Karsten Wurth for Unsplash

Photo of Marilyn Raphael by Ashley Kruythoff, UCLA

October and November are AAG Regional Meetings months, and I was preparing to go to my first as AAG President. As is customary, I asked what members would like to hear about, and was offered a number of different but related topics including “anything related to the future of geography and the role of the AAG.” The latter was especially important because a large proportion of the members attending the regional meetings are students — graduate and undergraduate. Instead of choosing a single topic, I integrated the two, and before I knew it, I had committed myself to speaking on Geography and Geographers in a Changing World.

Now, anyone looking at that title would instantly realize that this is not a 40-minute oral presentation; rather, it is the topic of a multi-authored manuscript (for example, this one) suitable for publication in a medium much like the Annals, or an edited book suitable for use in a “History of Modern Geography” class. In fact, a day or so after the presentation I casually googled the topic and found several related titles, including Gilbert White’s Geographers in a Perilously Changing World.

Graduate and undergraduate students in our discipline are trying to put their geographical education and their hopes for jobs into context as they prepare to leave university. They are entering a world that is more interconnected than ever — the speed with which information and misinformation are spread via social media is one example of that connectedness. Another is the reliance on mapping technologies for nearly everything, from finding the fastest route home through traffic to understanding public health trends. Our students face a world in which the economy is unstable, the global political state is tenuous, the climate is changing, and environmental degradation is a perennial problem. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, we have just experienced three years of a pandemic that has fundamentally changed the way we live and work.

Our students are so concerned about these issues that they are wondering how their geographic education is going to help them find jobs as well as answers to these pressing problems. Indeed, they are demanding a truly synthetic geography education that gives them a broad toolkit to tackle the world into which they will graduate. To meet their questions, it is worth reminding ourselves of who we are as geographers, from where we’ve come and to think about where we might be going. And how we fit into today’s world. It helps to take stock of what has happened in context, as we move to the next phase.

Changes in Geography and the AAG

“Change is a constant” is an overused phrase, but it is good to be reminded. Geography has been changing along with the world, very recently as well as over the last few decades. The discipline was once the static study of place concerned with how things are arranged on earth’s surface, with the map being the geographer’s tool. Geography’s quantitative revolution and the technological development of computers in the mid-20th century facilitated the development of geographic information systems (GIS), initially the tool of geographers but now used almost universally where spatial data analysis is needed. GIS, as well as new ways of thinking about things geographical, for example critical (human) geography and critical physical geography, means that geographers can ask different, arguably better, questions, potentially increasing the richness of their answers.

There has also been significant change in the leadership of the AAG, from one where men were far overrepresented, to one where women are more visible and active as leaders. The Association was founded in 1904. Seventeen years later, it elected its first female President. It took another 63 years before the second female president was elected (1984). Now, in the 21st century, a female president has become commonplace, so much so that I am the third female president in the last three years and next year there will be a fourth.

Other evidence of change within the AAG is apparent in the 2023 Annual Meeting theme: Toward More Just Geographies. This theme was chosen “in recognition of the urgency, centrality, and interdependence of equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice within our discipline and in the world” and reflects a core shift within the institution, matching changes that are occurring worldwide. This is not a singular action, but part of a fundamental change in the ways in which we operate. The AAG is now implementing a Council-approved 3-Year JEDI (justice, equity, inclusion and diversity) strategic framework.

The Outlook for Geography (as the Landscape Changes)

The point that I am making is that even with all of the changes that are occurring around us and within our organization, the core geographic ideas will not change. Geography, as in what we do, will change. A perfect example is how GIS has allowed us to ask new questions and to frame pre-existing questions differently, while still focusing on the richness of space moving from the static study of places on maps to the more revealing and arguably more interesting concepts such as the processes underlying the formation and interconnectedness of these places. A present-day working definition of geography is now closer to something like this: Geography examines human (e.g., social, cultural, economic, political) and physical (eg climatological, geomorphological, biogeographical) phenomena within the context of space, that is to say, how their location and their connections to others over space contribute to their characteristics and impacts and to the definition of the others.

The tools of geography are being used by other disciplines, and not just GIS. What I mean is that the interdisciplinary approach to understanding is becoming (or has become) commonplace. The contemporary movement in the social sciences, where I note many geography departments are housed, is towards addressing questions of global interconnection; migration, urbanization; environmental sustainability; climate change and its impacts, among others. There is a movement toward the use of more synthetic approaches to answer these questions. The synthetic approach is embedded in geography as is evident in the working definition that I outlined above and practiced in approaches like critical physical geography (and including critical remote sensing, qualitative GIS).

Finally, the demographic makeup of geographers is changing (or becoming more evident)

I am especially delighted that we see more geographers, representing many more identities: cultural, gender, ability/disability, and ethnic identities bringing with them a greater diversity of experience and knowledge. This expanding diversity means that different points of view are being introduced and incorporated into the body of geography. This can only make for a healthier discipline. There has never been a better time to be a geographer.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0119

Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at raphael [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion.


Taking Responsibility: AAG Acts on Climate Change

Image of the word ACT spray-painted on cement by Mick Haupt for Unsplash
Image by Mick Haupt for Unsplash

Photo of Gary Langham

In late 2021, AAG and the Climate Action Task Force asked members to weigh in on our role in responding to climate change. An overwhelming majority — 93 percent! — of responding members called upon us to be a leader on climate change, not only in our public actions but also in every aspect of our operations. Your responses provided us with a mandate for transforming our organization’s policies and practice, as well as helping us ground-truth our efforts so far. We have made tremendous progress in just one year. Let me share the good news.

Bar chart taken from an AAG survey on climate showing actions members would like to see AAG take, the top of which is taking a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
This bar chart depicts results from a survey of AAG members. Among the 93% who urged AAG to take leadership on climate change, the top suggestion was that AAG take a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.


AAG’s Commitment to Climate Action: Policy and Advocacy

AAG’s increased engagement with policy issues has centered our attention to climate change. Most recently we acted on our unequivocal stance on the climate crisis by mobilizing our membership in support of the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage. In the past three years, we have also taken action to protect access to science, participated in COP26 and the upcoming COP27, and frequently participated in the community of scientists calling for action on the climate crisis, such as the joint statement by International Geographical Societies on the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies.

AAG’s recent investments in new software and staffing will also help us scale our climate action policy work for maximum effectiveness and help geographers’ voices be heard on the issue of climate change during 2023 and beyond.

Climate-Forward Investments: Divestment from Fossil Fuel

Next to policy and advocacy leadership, divestment was the single most important issue to 3 out of 4 members who responded to AAG’s questionnaire. Over the past three years, this issue was a common topic of discussion, but it seemed impossible to maintain a broad set of indexed funds while meeting the goal. New options became available this year as global interest in ESG investing grows. I am pleased to announce that AAG has now fully divested from fossil fuel holdings and retargeted them to socially just and environmentally friendly options. AAG is now 100% free of fossil-fuel investments.

Smaller Carbon Footprint for Meetings

Despite—or at times because of—the paradigm shift caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, AAG has made many changes over the last three years to address our role in creating less carbon-intensive meetings. From 2020 until now, AAG has renewed its approaches not only to the annual meeting, but to all of our convening activities.

Back in 2019, when AAG responded to member calls for renewed commitment to this issue by forming a Climate Task Force, we first addressed the need to rethink the annual meeting for significantly reduced CO2 emissions. That early work toward this goal in 2019 prepared us for the unexpected challenges of COVID-19. AAG now has adopted a method to estimate carbon emissions from meeting participation, which I summarized in this column last year, and which is described further in our report. We adopted a peer-reviewed method, based on a study of travel patterns to the American Geophysical Union Fall 2019 Meeting, coauthored by AAG member Debbie Hopkins. This method enables AAG to not only estimate past and future emissions to increase transparency, but also to determine whether we are meeting the stated goals of the member petition in 2019. The goal is to reduce emissions from the annual meeting by 45% by 2030 and by 100% by 2050.

Introducing virtual and hybrid options will allow each member to determine how best to participate in future AAG meetings. We are working to make these options available while keeping costs as low as possible. AAG is also experimenting with watch parties and so-called nodes to create additional options for participation. This approach reflects our commitment to ensure that however the meeting is experienced, it is a rich and rewarding one.

Changing how AAG convenes to address the carbon emissions burden of conventional meetings has not always been easy, but it has provided new benefits we did not anticipate, in terms of broader access to events, new modalities for presenting and networking, and less pressure on hosting communities. We continue to learn, innovate, and enhance our offerings in keeping with our commitment to address climate change.

Lower-Carbon Operations and Office Space

Nearly 60 percent of respondents to our questionnaire signaled the importance of increasing the energy efficiency of AAG’s headquarters and operations. In November, AAG will move to a new, LEED-Gold building that provides significant efficiencies over our former headquarters. We are also now a fully hybrid office, promoting remote work and telecommuting for all our staff.


AAG’s work on climate action will never be fully done, nor should it be. There will always be room for improvement and new opportunities to show up for our planet. Yet we have already made remarkable progress. We continue to be responsive and adaptable — not only to the demands of climate change, but also to our members’ ideas, insights, and priorities for the Association. We look forward with excitement to our first hybrid annual meeting, in Denver March 23-27 — another first in our work to provide high-quality programming that also reduces our carbon emissions and energy use. I thank the Climate Action Task Force members for their partnership on this critical issue.

Please continue to send your suggestions for AAG’s approach to addressing climate change to HelloWorld@aag.org.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0120

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.



David M. Mark

David M. Mark, The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (UB) Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography and an internationally recognized leader in the field of GIScience, died Sept. 24 after a brief illness. He was 74.

Jeri Jaeger, UB professor emeritus of linguistics and Mark’s partner of 15 years, was by his side.

Mark joined the UB faculty in 1981 and had a major impact on the Department of Geography and the university more broadly, and his influence on the disciplines of geography, GIScience and human spatial cognition/languages was seen on an international scale. Among his many achievements, he worked with Andrew Frank, Andrew Turk, David Stea and others to establish the field of ethnophysiography — the perception and description of landforms by different cultures.

Mark served as director of the UB site of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA), funded by NSF to UB, UC Santa Barbara, and University of Maine from 1995-2013. NCGIA helped establish a national and international presence for the burgeoning field of GIScience.

Mark’s own research began with geometric descriptions of the land surface and evolved toward ethnophysiography. Along the way, he pioneered methods for representing these landforms using digital computers, which helped usher in the field of GIScience. He and other NCGIA colleagues simultaneously developed a formal theory for spatial thinking, grounded in cognition and linguistics. His ethnophysiographic and ontological research has been a major component of the theoretical foundation of GIScience. Collectively, his work has profoundly influenced the knowledge body of GIScience and the research directions pursued in the field today.

A prolific scholar, Mark published well over 200 manuscripts that have been cited over 18,000 times. He was lead investigator on numerous large grants, including from the National Institutes of Health and two National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrated Graduate Education, Research and Training (IGERT) projects, which funded and launched the careers of about 50 doctoral students.

He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science Researcher of the year (2004), Educator of the Year (2009) and Elected Fellow (2010); the American Association of Geographers’ Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award (2013); Simon Fraser University’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Academic Achievement (2016); and the Waldo-Tobler GIScience Prize from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2016).

A native of British Columbia, Canada, he earned a B.A. in geography from Simon Fraser in 1970, an M.A. in geography from the University of British Columbia in 1974 and a Ph.D. in geography from Simon Fraser in 1977. He was an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario before joining the UB faculty.

Aside from his academic achievements, Mark was an enthusiastic “birder” for many decades. He and Jaeger traveled extensively, including to the Amazon River, the coast of Alaska, game parks in Africa, Egypt and the Nile River, and India. He added to his lifetime list of birds wherever he traveled.

In years past, David was a member of the geography department’s soccer team and goalie for the floor hockey team. Many of his teammates were his graduate students. He was a dedicated fan of the Buffalo Sabres and Bills, and went to many games with friends. Having bonded with the Bills during the Super Bowl years of 1991-94, he had been looking forward to this year with great anticipation.

Contributed by members of the University at Buffalo Geography Department.


William Laatsch

The geographer who loved nothing more than exploring unfamiliar territory has embarked on his next journey, to a destination not found in any atlas. William Ganfield Laatsch, 84, passed away September 14, 2022.

William Laatsch was born June 20, 1938, in Waukesha, WI, to Wayland and Elizabeth (Ganfield) Laatsch. His lifelong love of learning and exploring began in childhood, nurtured by family trips to Northern Wisconsin and the east coast. An only child, he often joked about how, instead of being chaotic and crowded affairs, holidays were often spent reading, surrounded by aunts and uncles who would do the same until cocktail hour.

I don’t expect them all to become geographers. I just expect them to be better stewards of the Earth and its people.

Photo of William Laatsch pointing to a desk map with students looking on

While Bill’s immediate family was small, his youth in Waukesha was surrounded by a close knit group of families that included Richard and Elizabeth Hunter and their daughter Frances. Growing up on the same block, Fran and Bill would accompany each other to school which was the start of a loving relationship that would see them marry on August 18, 1962 and go on to spend the next 60 years together. Fran was Bill’s partner as he pursued his academic career, and together they traveled widely, across North America, Europe, and Asia. They had a special affinity for the American West. Together Bill and Fran would raise two children, Ann (Shorewood, WI) and David (Wauwatosa, WI).

Photo of William Laatsch pointing to a large wall map with student looking on

In 1956 Bill enrolled at Carroll College, now Carroll University, where his family ties to the institution ran deep. His grandfather, William Arthur Ganfield, served as the College’s sixth president and Bill’s parents, aunts, and uncle also attended Carroll. He continued his studies at the University of Oklahoma where he earned a Master of Science in physical geography, and the University of Alberta in Edmonton. There, he studied high latitude geography, mining development, and town site development. (Decades later, he would be honored with a Yukon ecological reserve named after him in recognition of his 1970’s doctoral dissertation recommendation that the region emphasize ecotourism as a hedge against the decline of mining). After earning his Ph.D. in cultural geography, he accepted a position in the Department of Regional Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Photo of William Laatsch wearing a mouse costume for the annual fall Bill Laatsch Wine and Cheese Classic, courtesy University of Wisconsin library digital archivesBill spent 43 years at UWGB as a Professor of Geography and Department Chair, and postponed retirement to fill the position of Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. For decades, he hosted the Bill Laatsch Wine and Cheese Classic each fall, where he—dressed as a 6’4” gray mouse (shown at right)—would welcome students back to campus with his signature warmth and good humor. Bill retired in 2009, and became the first faculty member to have a classroom named in their honor. During the course of his career he earned numerous prestigious awards for teaching excellence, both locally and nationally. Bill inspired generations of students to pursue careers in teaching, urban planning, cartography, GIS, remote sensing, and other professions related to cultural geography’s focus on the Earth and how humans interact with it. About his students, he remarked “I don’t expect them all to become geographers. I just expect them to be better stewards of the Earth and its people.”

He also served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Department of Development. He was a member of the Editorial Board of the “Voyageur” Historical Review, former chairman of the State of Wisconsin Historic Preservation Review Board, Chairman of the Midwest division of the Association of American Geographers and Fellow of the American Geographical Society. He is a former President of the Heritage Hill Corporation, which operates the Heritage Hill State Historical Park for the Department of Natural Resources.

Photo of William Laatsch taking notes near an alter with religious artifactsA professional interest in Belgian settlement in northeastern Wisconsin culminated in helping to establish the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, Wisconsin, which is dedicated to telling the story of Belgian settlement in Wisconsin and works to preserve unique elements of Belgian culture. Bill loved leading bus tours of the Southern Door County Belgian architectural and historical sites for students, tourists, and anyone who would seek out his expertise and, to his children’s horror, terrible jokes.

A deep allegiance to his alma mater, Carroll, is evident in Bill’s years of service to the institution. He served on the Board of Trustees for 19 years (1991-2010) chairing numerous committees and ultimately as Chairman of the Board.

Bill revered the Earth’s beauty, and was moved to tears when he saw Mount Everest in person in 1996. He loved Jake’s corned beef, deep belly laughs, early morning fresh cheese curd runs, Door County, and striking up conversations with strangers across the world (whether they spoke his language or not). A champion trapshooter, he loved shooting and found joy in teaching his children to enjoy the sport as well. Above all else, he loved being Papa to his grandchildren. He treated everyone he met with respect and kindness, and gave generously of his time and energy to environmental, educational, historical, and artistic causes.

Bill was preceded in death by his parents and his beloved in-laws Richard and Elizabeth Hunter. He is survived by his wife Frances Hunter, daughter Ann Laatsch, son David (Tara) Laatsch, and his two amazing grandchildren, Elizabeth and Andrew, as well as countless friends, colleagues, and students who he inspired, encouraged, and mentored.

Reprinted with permission from the Feerick Funeral Home.


Climate Justice Demands an Integrated Geography 

Message painted on wall that says "asterisk" Leave no one behind; photo by Etienne Girardet for Unsplash
Image by Etienne Girardet for Unsplash

Photo of Marilyn Raphael by Ashley Kruythoff, UCLA

Some months ago, I was asked to speak about climate justice at a monthly seminar series. The invitation welcomed my “perspectives on the role of Earth Observations (EO) for climate justice, areas of momentum within the geography research community [as] well as areas where attention is needed.” I was immediately tempted to say “no” because I felt that there were people better able to address this topic at that level, but the invitation cast the request within the context of my roles as the president of American Association of Geographers and director of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, two groups which should definitely have something to say about climate change and climate justice. So, I agreed, taking it as an opportunity to do a deeper dive into the issue of climate change and climate justice, from the perspective of a physical geographer. I learned a lot — here is some of what I learned.

Climate science and climate justice

Historically, climate scientists have treated the climate as if it were a phenomenon separate from ourselves. We saw it as a very complex phenomenon that functioned on its own, largely beyond our control, its variability something that we could measure objectively, describe, and analyze. The study of climate variables that affected human comfort and survival was prioritized and predictions of the same were used to prepare for drought, floods and the like.

Climate justice demands that climate scientists no longer ignore what is right in front of our eyes but recognize and redress the ways in which our practice of science contributes to this injustice.

Human-induced climate change has changed that perspective. Primarily we now see that our use of the planetary resources, particularly fossil fuels, is directly responsible for the changes in climate that we are experiencing. The largely negative impacts of climate change, are unequally distributed so that people who are already disadvantaged and least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that forced climate change, are the most vulnerable. Climate justice, which recognizes how these inequities are exacerbated by climate change, is a movement as well as a way of approaching the climate crisis. The climate justice movement highlights the connections between climate change and social injustice.  Most importantly, climate justice demands that climate scientists no longer ignore what is right in front of our eyes but recognize and redress the ways in which our practice of science contributes to this injustice.

To understand the role of EO for climate justice requires talking to climate justice organizers and activists themselves, given that climate justice, like environmental justice, is a movement more than an area of academic application and research. Physical scientists need to know the needs of groups working to advance climate justice. We also need to know the uses — present and potential, by and for whom or what — of the kinds of knowledge tools (datasets, models) we are working to construct. Additionally, often the need is not for additional research but rather a redistribution of resources to tackle problems whose causes and consequences are already sufficiently clear — especially to those who are most affected by them. So, we have to think in terms of community data needs as well as the relationships between producers of scientific knowledge and affected communities.

More generally, physical scientists need to pay more attention to the role of scientific representations of climate change in obscuring climate injustice. This is an ongoing issue. Here is one example — attributing responsibility for climate change to a generalized “humanity” instead of to a specific set of powerful human institutions that have a long track record of harming, exploiting, and extracting wealth from colonized and marginalized people and places. In this context, “climate change” might be more productively addressed as a symptom rather than a cause.  We, rightfully, talk about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalized groups but this framing can elide the underlying processes producing both climate change and systemic marginalization — for instance, settler colonial control of land that facilitates fossil fuel extraction and industrial development while undermining the ability of Indigenous communities to adapt to climate change’s effects.

A geographical approach to linking climate science and climate justice

In geography, there is an is an emerging body of work called Critical Physical Geography, which may be used as a lens and guiding framework for bringing climate justice into climate science. Critical physical geography advocates paying more reflexive attention to how knowledge is produced — how we conceptualize our research and the methods that we use. It argues that social inequalities and power relations are implicitly woven through what we study and should not be ignored if a thorough understanding of our science is our goal.

A recent paper puts urban climatology at the center of this discussion. Arguably, the city is the place where human impact on the landscape and climate is concentrated and where measurable and perceived climate change was noted well before global climate change was widely confirmed. Even today, the temperature increase attributed to large cities (the Urban Heat Island) is larger than the global average temperature increase. And cities are major sites of greenhouse gas emissions. The city is also the place where much work on environmental justice is done because of the unequally distributed negative impacts of the increased temperatures and air pollution, among other things. critical urban climatology draws on the tenets of critical physical geography to argue that we need both urban climatology and environmental justice to fully understand urban climates because they are shaped both by legacies of colonialism, and race, gender, and class; and by the nature of the urban energy budgets, the variation in air quality, and the thermal and moisture characteristics that define them.

Going forward, what do we do?

In those brief preceding paragraphs, I have barely touched the surface. There is so much more to learn, to inform how we practice and use our science. Physical scientists (physical geographers) have made great strides to understand the physical nature of climate and climate change. However, our understanding of climate, climate change and its impacts is limited by the fact that we do not incorporate the human element. The divide between these perspectives is nothing new, as Mei-Po Kwan pointed out in 2008, but this has to change, because our environments are no longer only physical or only human. Was it ever so? Bridging the gap between physical and human geography practice will not only better address climate justice but will also improve our science.

Learn more about AAG’s work on climate action and justice


DOI: 10.14433/2017.0115

Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at raphael [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion.